Non-industrial applications of machine vision systems

4 min read

Modern imaging technologies are finding use in non-industrial applications ranging from road inspection to tomb exploration.

The use of machine vision technology is well established in the industrial arena, but machine vision systems are increasingly being used in a range of more esoteric applications. Indeed, according to German industrial association VDMA, the versatility of modern machine vision systems has driven their deployment in areas as diverse as retail, traffic management and agriculture.

One company that appears particularly keen to exploit this phenomenon is one of Europe’s largest machine vision companies, Stemmer Imaging.

RVI technology was recently used to probe a 1st century burial tomb in Jerusalem

Headquartered in Germany, Stemmer Imaging has recently been trumpeting the use of its technology in a range of non-industrial settings.
In one particularly fascinating application, Stemmer engineers have been working alongside researchers at Dresden Technical University to develop road inspection systems that can carefully analyse the surface of a road while travelling at speeds of up to 130km/h.


This represents an interesting challenge for the technology. Typically, in industrial applications, the objects to be inspected are moving while the imaging system itself remains static. In road inspection systems, this situation is reversed.

Over the past few years, Stemmer has worked closely with road vehicle inspection specialist Lehmann and Partner, which has used vehicle-mounted inspection systems to closely analyse hundreds of thousands of kilometres of German road.

According to Lehmann and Partner’s Dirk Ebersbach, similar systems could be used for tunnels and railway tracks or even in route planning for heavy-duty vehicles.

In other applications, Stemmer’s technology has been used to analyse and assess wildlife stocks. It has even been used to evaluate the effectiveness of insecticides by checking treated plants for the presence of plant louse nymphs and eggs.

But Stemmer isn’t the only vision specialist exploring new, unusual application areas.

Indeed, remote visual inspection (RVI) equipment developed by GE’s Measurement & Control division was recently used to probe a 1st century burial tomb in Jerusalem thought to contain the remains of early Christians.

A robotic arm fitted with remote visual equipment — more commonly used in industrial settings, as seen above right — is being used by archaeologists (above) to obtain images from within a tomb containing the remains of early Christians

With Jewish religious authorities insisting that nobody should enter or interfere with the tomb, the archaeological team decided to develop a robotic arm fitted with RVI technology, which is more commonly used in the aerospace, energy and automotive sectors.

GE’s Bill Tarant, who took part in the latest project, helped to carry out a similar exploration in 2005 and explained the problems faced. ‘In 2005, we gained entry to the tomb through a soul pipe,’ he said.

‘With the current project, we had to drill three 8in [20cm] holes through 2m of rock into the tomb. The tomb was 1m in height but any inspection equipment needed to be able to extend over 3m to obtain the required coverage.

‘We solved the problem by using a mechanical/pneumatic arm. This was fitted to a GE CA-Zoom PTZ [pan-tilt-zoom] camera, which was used to obtain the images inside the tomb. A second CA-Zoom PTZ was inserted in one of the other holes to monitor the movement of the first camera.’

Although the first images received were very good, the investigators asked if the definition could be improved to broadcast quality, so that the inscriptions on the ossuaries (caskets containing human skeletal remains) could be read not only on site but also by viewers of the film that was being made.


This required major development work by GE’s engineers, resulting in a customised high-definition camera. To support the CA-Zoom cameras, GE also introduced its XLG3 video probe to provide images of extremely difficult-to-access areas within the tomb.

With its very high light output and its unique 360º All-Way articulation, combined with advanced digital signal processing, the XLG3 probe can be remotely manipulated into the most difficult of locations to provide sharp, high-quality images.

‘I believe that this is the first time an archaeological project such as this has been carried out remotely,’ said Tarant. ‘Its success is due in no small part to the expertise and commitment of our custom engineering team, as well as to the functional capabilities of our range of RVI equipment.’

This equipment has provided high-definition video images of ossuaries within the tomb to enable archaeological experts to read the ossuary inscriptions and to gain some insight into their provenance.

The caskets appear to be inscribed with early Christian iconography, and there is speculation that the bones may actually belong to contemporaries or even disciples of Jesus Christ.

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